How "should" statements can ruin us

Did you know that should statements can be harmful to the way you feel about yourself?

Some may think these statements are motivational, even energizing. Sadly, the opposite is true. A well researched concept in mental health is the fact that our thoughts have a direct link to our feelings and behaviors. Let’s take a look at how the shoulds, oughts, and musts contribute to our negative feelings and behaviors.

First, should statements can sometimes arise when we are comparing ourselves to others.

For example, “I should lose weight to look better,”, “I should buy a new car like my successful coworker,” or even, “That family always looks perfect and put together. Mine should too!” How might these statements be harmful? First, these comparisons imply that we believe we aren’t good enough. We aren’t skinny enough, we aren’t wealthy enough, or we aren’t perfect enough. The trouble is that we are comparing ourselves to what others want us to see of themselves. Below the surface we are all dealing with something, and so are the people you are comparing yourself to. Remember the meme about the apple with the bite taken out of it? What we see on the surface doesn’t tell the whole story.

Next, should statements can increase our anxiety and stress.

Some people may even experience panic attacks. Imagine this. You need to travel for work, but you have a fear of flying. You get on the plane and start telling yourself, “I shouldn’t be so afraid of flying! What’s wrong with me? I’m a grown adult! I ought to be able to handle this!” The more you repeat these should statements, the higher your anxiety goes and the more hopeless the situation feels. Now you are stuck on an airplane breathing into a paper bag waiting for your anti-anxiety meds to kick in. We are in a fight with ourselves to fix the problem rather than being accepting of it, and the truth is, it will only get worse. The more we choose negative thoughts and self-criticism over healthy coping skills like mindfulness and reframing negative thoughts, the panic will get worse and the medication will be less effective.

How can we address our anxiety?

The first step is to start noticing how often your internal thoughts, or even conversations with others, include the words should, ought, and must. You’ve got to be aware that the thoughts are coming up in order to be able to explore where they are coming from. Once you have noticed that you are having these thoughts, is there a pattern? Is there a particular topic that comes up most often. Maybe it is about body image or finances. Maybe it is about a fear or phobia you’ve had for a long time. Start writing them down. Then maybe try to find facts to refute the statements. You could also practice self-compassion by saying something positive to yourself. Try acknowledging your shortcomings while also celebrating your strengths.

This can be difficult to do on your own.

If your "shoulds" put financial pressure on you, contact me for a complimentary consultation.

All my best,


Christina Gatteri, CFP

Certified Financial Planner

Warwick, Rhode Island 02886

(401) 203-9749


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